Is it normal that my horse is stripping the bark from trees?
These days when my horse does anything out of the ordinary I always ask myself is this mimicking wild horse behaviour or do I need to improve aspects of their natural living conditions. If I am unsure I will always revert back to Jaime's research. Jaime Jackson spent four years amongst the wild horses studying their behaviours and rituals and for that reason he is a very valuable source of information when you are trying to recreate the wild horse model.
I was always led to believe that horses stripped bark out of boredom or lack of forage and when you type into a search engine why does my horse eat bark these two answers are very common.
Firstly all research that I have come across on this subject is either on domesticated horses living in unnatural conditions or ‘wild’ horses in the wrong environment so in my opinion the research is flawed. (If anyone has any dependable research on this subject pretty please send my way and in return I would send so many virtual hugs).
My first question (ALWAYS) when thinking about our domesticated horse is ‘Do wild free roaming horses in the U.S Great Basin display these behaviours?’ Well, during Jaime’s time spent with the wild horses he often seen them travel through forest areas where he has personally witnessed them stripping bark from several trees. It is thought that some of these barks may impart arsenic-like compounds that inhibit or prevent parasite infestation (Jackson 2015).
Which brings me to another point that I find very interesting. Jaime observed how the wild horse diet would change throughout the season depending on what was available and one paper that I found useful (and somewhat confirming) was published in the Australian Veterinary Journal in 1986 notes that 40 horses at the Queensland Agricultural College had a noticeable increase in bark eating behavior after being moved from non-irrigated to irrigated and improved pasture. Researchers at the college took the opportunity to examine the make-up of the different pastures, it was noted that while nitrogen content was similar, the grasses in the non-improved pasture were more than twice as high in fibre content.
So do they strip bark off trees if there are any environmental changes? Could it be that they instinctively seek out nutrients to remedy nutritional imbalances, excesses and/or deficiencies in the diet and in the water or is it to prevent parasite infestation.
It is safe to say that it’s ok that our horse’s are stripping bark. Horses are very intelligent creatures and we have to presume that they know what they are doing, mother nature created survivors. They know what their bodies need and they have a perfectly good reason for doing it.
Jackson, J. (2015). Paddock Paradise. Lompoc: J.Jackson Publishing.